UN Women Beijing+20 global campaign

By Jane Lee, Communications & Outreach Associate, YWCA of Queens, USA

jane

YWCA of Queens Delegates

On Thursday, June 26, 2014, several staff and students from the YWCA of Queens attended the launch event of the UN Women Beijing+20 global campaign at the Apollo Theater, New York, USA. Our HSE students were eager to listen to the amazing line-up of speakers and performers, ranging from the UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka to noted feminist leader and activist Gloria Steinem. “Our goal is to rekindle the spirit of Beijing to re-energize all of us in our work to advance women’s rights, women’s empowerment and gender equality,” said UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. She added “the vision laid out in Beijing, with 12 critical areas of concern for women, still resonates deeply around the world. It is still unfinished business.” It was truly inspiring to listen to such a range of successful women of all ages from all over the world all advocating for gender equality and human rights.

“Our goal is to rekindle the spirit of Beijing to re-energize all of us in our work to advance women’s rights, women’s empowerment and gender equality,” said UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. Rousing the crowds, she added “the vision laid out in Beijing, with 12 critical areas of concern for women, still resonates deeply around the world. It is still unfinished business.” – See more at: http://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2014/6/press-release-beijing-20-launch-event-in-new-york#sthash.jQpd7zph.dpuf

Among the topics discussed were education for girls and women worldwide, the issues of rape and domestic violence, employment and wage gap between genders, women empowerment, and the importance of the role of men in our society to eliminate gender inequality. These subjects were discussed in insightful speeches, musical performances, as well as spoken poetry. Tiffany Rodriguez, our HSE student who spoke at the UN ECOSOC Youth Forum was one of the attendees from the YWCA of Queens. She stated, “I was pretty amazed by how everything turned out. It was full of energy and definitely worth coming back to again.”

I enjoyed everything, especially the poetry; it stood out to me the most.” As an organisation that serves underprivileged women from diverse backgrounds, the inspiring messages from this event gave us an extra motivation to keep advocating for the rights of women and elevating our educational and social services that we provide to our community.

The Social Determinants of Women’s and Children’s Health

By Cherelle Leilani Latafale Fruean, YWCA of Samoa. She recently attended  The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health (PMNCH) partners’ forum held in Johannesburg, South Africa. Cherelle spoke on a panel Healthy Women and Children +Social Good.

The Effects of Climate Change on RMNCH (Reproductive, Maternal, New born and Child Health) from a SIDS (Small Island Developing State) perspective.

Talofa lava and Good Afternoon, today I will be speaking on some of the effects of Climate Change on Reproductive, Maternal, New born and Child Health (RMNCH), specifically from a Small Island Developing State Perspective.

Samoa and the Pacific Islands are amongst some of the most susceptible countries to climate change, with extreme weather events and natural disasters becoming more frequent, severe and unpredictable. 10389557_10202612227613360_7352717036546402737_n

There are four main effects of Climate Change on RMNCH that I’d like to highlight and they are: access to health services, infectious diseases, food insecurity and water sanitation and violence against women.

In times of natural disaster, health services and infrastructure including access to family planning and maternal health services become extremely limited if not non-existent. Women and girls are also at increased risk of sex-specific health issues such as sudden stoppage of menstruation, miscarriages, premature delivery and post-partum haemorrhage. Environmental changes such as deforestation can increase the occurrence of infectious diseases (especially those with an insect or animal vector, like malaria or dengue), to which pregnant women and children are especially vulnerable.

Women and children in the rural areas are one of the most endangered groups to health risks as they are known to live off the land .The effects of climate change decreases access to natural resources and reduces crop yields and surface water. Reduced food intake leaves pregnant women and girls more vulnerable, affecting maternal health and heightening the risks of child and maternal mortality, and malnutrition. The insufficient drinking water and/or water to use for sanitation, also leads to many health problems, including sexual and reproductive health problems.

It is also common, post-disaster, for displaced women and girls who are living in shelters to be exposed to unsafe situations, sexual exploitation and/or abuse. Violence against women almost triples during times of disaster, with pregnant women and girls, and children at the core of this very group. This affects not only their physical health but their mental health and emotional stability.

Now these are only a few of the effects of Climate Change that impact RMNCH specifically, but it is a cross-cutting issue that affects all areas of society and it is a very urgent concern. We as young people, the inheritors of the land, must partner with our leaders and states to build the capacity to develop innovative interventions that reverse the impact of Climate Change. We urge our leaders and states to take action now!

In two short months Samoa will host the UN’s Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States. Over 200 delegates including state leaders and influencers from the Pacific, Caribbean and Aims Region will attend. There will be a large youth delegation in active participation and the YWCA will be hosting a side event addressing “How Faith, Dignity, Culture and SRHR can aid in alleviating the effects of Poverty and Climate Change”. So with this, we have the amazing opportunity to let our voices be heard, let partnerships be strengthened and let change be made today.

Beijing+ who? And 2015 what?

By Kgothatso Mokoena, YWCA of South Africa.

My engagement with the African Union Summit

2014 has been a hectic time, for development activists, with all current development frameworks ending in 2015, noting the end of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and celebrating 20 years of implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action. Similarly the international community now is focused on UN mechanisms, Post 2015 development framework and while the African Union (AU) is encouraging member states to align with Agenda 2063 aspirations.

Kgothatso Mokoena

Kgothatso Mokoena

The world is now at the cusp of progress, accountability and inclusion. The tapestry of development language is weaved with the language of human rights. But practice…is NOT! My observations at the African Union and the Gender is My Agenda Campaign (GIMAC) consultation Forum has caused me to be concerned that although we have such good frameworks, our leaders are still hesitant to get their feet wet.

As individuals, communities and countries begin to understand what human rights means to them, it becomes vital to place women and girls at the very heart of all these processes. Twenty years ago at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), member states committed to support sexual and reproductive health rights of all women and girls. The result was a definitive programme of action that would compel countries, for the next two decades to focus on equality, empowerment of women, reproductive health, sustainable development and growth.

As I followed the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) and Post 2015 Agenda negotiations, I am frustrated to see governments still arguing without logic that eradication of poverty and unemployment programmes are not constrained by negative reproductive health outcomes. I simply can not comprehend why any country would believe that a population, with a high level of teenage pregnancies and young women and girls who are forced to marry early and are unhealthy or neglected in terms of access to health facilitates would not be considered a major sustainable development issue.

Today, we no longer look at poverty as we did 20 years ago. It’s not just an income figure but a view that any circumstance which deprives one of health, education, and living conditions is poverty. That’s right; health is actually a condition that determines poverty!! In the African region, 3900 child brides live in this dire situation.

Group Photo

YWCA AU Delegation

The post 2015 development agenda must be based on human rights framework; it should commit to the gender equality goal as a standalone and must include clear commitments to young women and girls. This is a non-negotiable for us and billions of women around the world. Indeed women’s agency, voice and leadership are crucial and core to meeting the aspirations of development as stated in the AU Agenda 2063.

In the words of my good friend and youth advocate Ramya Kudekallu, “We want sexual and reproductive health rights to be considered as life itself, because the origin of all human life is (shockingly) sex. The point countless community and health workers, researchers, doctors, activists and civil society organisations are trying to get at is that every aspect of sexual health and well being is deeply connected with a nations’ well being. Sexual and reproductive health rights is allowing people, man or woman, young or old, or any race or any creed to better engage in decisions concerning their bodies, gender and relationships.”

So Beijing+ who? Beijing+20, you! MGD…who? Post 2015 Agenda…..about you! Engage now!

We all are champions through intergenerational leadership!

By Yadanar Aung, YWCA of Myanmar.

Yadanar

Yadanar Aung

Asia and Pacific Leadership Training was held from 2nd-8th June, 2014 in Yangon Myanmar with the theme of “Intergenerational Approaches to Bold and Transformative Leadership”. There were 30 participants: presidents, general secretaries, mentors, young women and young women leaders from Bangladesh, Thailand, Sri-Lanka, India, Myanmar, Nepal and Solomon Island.

The topics of the training are very interesting: personal leadership journey, monitoring and evaluation, advocacy, gender equality, sexual and reproductive health and rights and rights-based approach. Moreover, we learned about human rights, sexual and reproductive health and rights and sexually orientated Gender Identity through this amazing film called “Philomena”.

In addition, together with the participants from Myanmar as Country team, we work together for the monitoring and evaluation for the young women’s leadership training institute project and we discussed about the advocacy action plan for the violence against women, young women and girls. Young Women’s Dialogue is one of the programmes where partner organisations of YWCA of Myanmar attended. The country representatives from Burnet Institute, Help Age International and Women’s Organisation recognise, realise and embrace the skills and abilities of young women. Furthermore, they acknowledge the importance of  meaningful of young women as essential.

After joining training, there are many questions in my head concerning my personal leadership journey, intergenerational approach, rights based approach, envisioning 2035 and advocacy etc. This training is totally a safe space for all to learn, share and express ourselves. As a young woman participant of this training, I feel the sense of intergenerational spirit. No matter what our positions at work, our age, our experiences, we work together as a team, we acknowledge each other, value each other, accept the diversity and find the solutions for  the problems with the solidarity spirit.

Group

Participants from the training

This whole week was a very productive week and it highlighted that “ we all are champions through intergenerational leadership!”

2nd Asia Pacific Feminist Forum

By Rajini Sureka -Youth Co-ordinator, YWCA of Sri Lanka.

2nd Asia Pacific Feminist forum officially opened on the 29th of May, 2014 at the Empress Hotel Convention Center Chiang Mai, Thailand. The World YWCA is participating in this forum with a delegation of eight women from World YWCA India Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Thailand and Bangladesh.

(Delegates)

(Delegates)

This forum brought almost 300 feminists from across the five subs – regions of Asia and the Pacific (Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia, Central Asia and the Pacific) as well as global allies. Gathered around you are activists, lawyers, academics and women human rights defenders working on the multiple struggles of women in our region. We are beautiful and strong the moderator told us!

During this programme we have eight YWCA representatives from different countries. At this forum we will meet women on the front line of women’s right activism, land right activism, migrant workers, Indigenous women, rural women leaders, democracy activists, labour movements leaders, women who have been imprisoned, harassed and intimidated yet remain determined to pursue our collective struggle for justice, right and equality.

The meeting was the first of its kind – more than 300 grassroots women coming together to discuss and create waves:

  • To strengthen the capacity and skills of activists and allies to foster political, economic and cultural change for women’s right enjoyment
  • Deepen analysis and knowledge around the structural, persistent and emerging barriers to women’s right enjoyment
  • To strengthen and share advocacy strategies to address the political challenge and opportunities facing feminist movement
  • Deepen solidarity, alliances and foster movement building amongst women’s right advocates and allies regionally and globally.

Even on the first day I felt extremely inspired and prepared to go back my country and to use everything that I have learnt here at the 2nd Asia Pacific Feminist forum. At this meeting our main focus has been to build networks with other organisations and sharing HER future: The Future Young Women Want. I am looking forward to work with my amazing group during this forum. Dviya asked the question in the opening plenary ‘how do we as a women’s movement call on our governments to account for non action on implementing women’s human rigths’. As a group of YWCA mobilized young women we are ready to talk, listen and contribute.

When you see it, you be it!

By Laurie Gayle, YWCA of Great Britain.

I want to spend a little time extracting some data for us to digest before going on to talk about how YWCA programmes address the gender gap relating to STEM.

Laurie Gayle

All the experts agree that the greatest job growth in the world is predicted to be in the industry of engineering. There is an enormous shortage of engineers and big data talent to meet industry needs now and in the future and so, attracting more women to these fields is critical to solving this problem.

So, why is there a problem? Overall it comes down to the world not producing enough students with the right skills. In the last 20 years, engineering enrolment has remained stagnant in the US despite enormous industry changes. Whilst technology has radically evolved, interest levels have not and this is particularly true for women and girls.

Just 18% of engineering degrees are awarded to women, 10% of practicing engineers are female and 3% of technology CEOs are women. Why? Because of the slander that says these fields are men’s work only. We, as women, committed to equality, must get better at challenging this. It is NOT a fact that some jobs professions are just better suited to men. Let’s all remember what I’m about to say and repeat this when appropriate: Whilst you are entitled to your own opinion, no matter how wrong, you are not entitled to your own facts.

So now, I want to establish a little bit of a baseline. Who has heard of Stephen Hawking? How about Neil de Grasse Tyson, director of the Harlem Plantearium in New York? Who can name a woman, let alone a woman of colour or who has a disability, with the same level of recognition in those fields?

This is a large part of why this issue is so multi-layered and the crux of it for me is a simple doctrine: We are what we see. Women and girls don’t see themselves doing certain careers, certain things, because they literally don’t see themselves doing these things. If you don’t see a woman playing sport, if you don’t see a woman engaging in politics, if you don’t see women taking on leadership roles in their community or working in academic disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, you’re less likely to conceive that one day you could or should be doing these things.

There’s some really interesting research that has come out from the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media about this. What they found is the media (that’s film, television, news outlets etc.), do not portray or highlight women engineers or computer scientists at all. An interesting exception however, is in the United States, particularly on television, where women forensic scientists are extremely well-represented because of shows like CSI. What the data tells us is because there is significant saturation in media representation for this field, and women in this field, there is less work to be done in achieving equality in forensic science because of this: women gaining forensic science degrees has risen 75% over the last decade. So, the proof is there that several layers of society need to bump up showcasing women in STEM roles because clearly, when you see it, you be it!

The YWCA movement of over 25 million girls and women the world over is great at recognising this. I want to highlight what one of the YWCAs here in the States has been doing around bolstering interest in girls around STEM.

The YWCA of Pittsburgh runs three distinct programmes designed to supplement regular academic settings and bring girls to STEM and STEM to girls. ‘Tech Girls’, ‘STEM Impact’ and ‘STEM Art’ are all about nurturing girls’ confidence to use STEM tools, improve basic literacy and coach girls to utilise and interact with STEM to encourage creativity and expand their horizons.

This is just one piece of the puzzle. Think about strategies you think would work to integrate girls into STEM. What can you do as an individual? What can you do as a community? What do you expect civil society and NGOs to do in terms of programming? What should our Governments be doing? What sort of societal changes can start the domino effect?

To sum it all up, I want conclude with something Martin Luther King Jr. used to say. We cannot take the tranquilising drug of gradualism. This incremental approach towards equality isn’t good enough anymore. We’ve got to get better at insisting for ‘now’ and not settling for only a footstep forward. The reason this is important is because of this statistic which, when I read it, rocked my world. If we keep adding women to STEM fields, and politics, and other arenas at the rate we have been, we will not reach gender parity for another 800 YEARS. Whilst we all know that statistic is simply unacceptable, it’s not unchangeable. So let’s do something about it.

 

 

Leadership and Unity

by Inunonse Ngwenya, YWCA of Zambia.

Inun

Inunonse Ngwenya

Great leaders inspire and motivate people. Leaders stand for something far greater than themselves, they promote peace , justice , equality , positive change and good values. We need governments and CSO’s that will help young people build resilience to cope with the same responsibilities of leadership by ensuring that the many youths are considered in key government positions. I am reaching out to poor people, the sick and the old stretch your hands across the world. Leaders show that you care for the most fortunate women and girls out there, including those that seem to have lost their way and I am calling on all those that can help them to see a brighter day.

Unity is like harmony leaders reach out to those women and young girls in the streets open your eyes and see all we need is unity and understand we can do anything if we believe. The brightest future will always be based on a forgotten past, you can’t go on well in life until you deal with your past failures and heartaches. When you were born you were crying and everyone around you was smiling so live your life so that when you die you are the one smiling and everyone around you is crying. Too much water will and shall pass under the bridge for me to forget as the saying goes.

Despite the advances in the world that have taken place through great leadership, around the world indigenous children consistently number among the most marginalized groups in society and are frequently denied the enjoyment of their rights, including the highest attainable standard of health, education, protection and participation in decision-making processes that are relevant to their lives.

As young leaders we have the responsibility of promoting participatory citizens advocacy by making people aware of their rights and the obligation of governments of the day to serve their citizens. Great things are not done by impulse, but a series of small things brought together. As leaders do all the good you can, by all the means you can in all the ways you can. In all the places you can, in all the times you can and to all the people you can as long as ever you can. Governments have a critical role to play as catalysts for positive change when they act to uphold the rights of indigenous children. This commitment includes promoting the meaningful participation of indigenous peoples, supporting surveys that give a clear picture of the situation of indigenous communities and their children, introducing legislation to ensure respect for and protection of indigenous peoples’ rights, and developing effective mechanisms of implementation and enforcement.

Young women and girls are calling out to the World leaders, raising our voices shouting that it’s been a long time since we entered your hearts. We belong to one global village with a goal and objective to achieve at the end of the day.

Together we can make a difference.

My first experience as a World YWCA intern travelling to Africa

By Sharon Yendevenge, YWCA Papua New Guinea. Sharon recently attended her 1st ITI as an Intern with the World YWCA and she shares her views on her experience.

My journey to Africa started on the 16th of March 2014 from Geneva airport travelling to Arusha, Tanzania. It was a move to a completely different continent  with different peoplesharon web and yes there I was. The small Arusha airport stood alone approximately a 45mins from my destination Naura Springs Hotel. We arrived late at night and although I felt tired, I was looking forward for the morning to officially start my African experience and to meet other sisters around the world.

The World YWCA first International training Institute for the year  brought together many different people from varying countries to participate.  The participants were mainly from different parts of Africa, but there were also representatives from  Caribbean, Europe, and the Asia Pacific region.  The first day began with   presentations from partner organisations such as DSW, IPAS, ARROW and FERMET, and this was followed by heavy discussions from participants within their regional groups on various SRHR topics. One of the objectives of the ITI was to come up with a regional briefs for the regions represented. From the discussions, I noticed that regardless of  government signing with the different treaty bodies to integrate SRHR in their countries, problems still exist in regards to  poor health services, lack of information, information being too complex for persons to understand, less sensitivity training. In my regional group Asia and Pacific, it was observed that the Governments needs to increase  health services and introduce  mobile clinics for cases of emergencies, 24 hours hotline for Violence against women, train more health workers on SRHR services and also  provide adequate health services for persons in  rural areas. The availability and the use of contraceptives was another thing that was observed to be lacking. There needed to be greater access for women as it has been seen that many women don’t really know about using contraceptives other than the male condom.  It was clearly seen that  people are very often too shy to purchase condoms in public places because of stigma and discrimination that surrounds it. Other important issues such as abortion not been legalised in many countries and high maternal mortality rates were also discussed.

The day two ended with a very exciting cultural dinner, It showcased, dancing and singing from the various cultures and African tribes present.

I woke up the next day sunlight beaming through my bedroom and couldn’t help but smile as I knew this would be another adventurous day.  I had the privilege to visit the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. The United Nations had built this court in Arusha, Tanzania especially to hear genocide cases.  It was interesting to hear from the young African women on how the fights have affected them.  In one way or the other, their parents, brothers and sisters, and relatives have experienced a great devastation in their lives, fleeing from war and enemies and ending up in neighbouring countries not knowing where they were going. Still today there are  yet many  untold stories as it can be painful to retell these stories. .

Heading back to the hotel I was so disturbed by the thoughts of innocent lives of women and children and even the men been killed. These bad memories were soon erased as the bus  went off to a snake farm. The excitement I felt to get an opportunity to see the African snakes I often watch on television live in person couldn’t be explained. What made my day even more interesting was that it was also my first opportunity to ride on a camel.  It was so interesting to see how the camel had to get up from the ground and then land. From up on top, I am  sure I heard myself really screaming especially when the camel started to stand up.  It was indeed a  great experience for me and so the third day ended and the fourth day begun with a journey to DSW Centre in Arusha for another day of activities.

Overall, my ITI experience was magnificent and my time in Tanzania, Africa couldn’t have been better.

THE PICTURE 2014

By Inunonse Ngwenya. YWCA of Zambia.

Inunonse Ngwenya

One of the main reasons developing countries  are unlikely to achieve  many Millennium development goals and escape the persistence of poverty that plagues even poorer countries that still manage to achieve decent levels of economic growth, is a lack of government  revenue towards paying for schools, hospitals, roads and public service. A recession in developing countries provides yet another excuse for them to renege on their overseas aid commitment and every drop of government revenue is important.

In almost every society in the world, young people get fewer opportunities than adults to make their voices heard in public arena. The 12th Article of the UN Convention on the Rights of the child states that every child has the right to express his or her opinion and be heard in all matters that affects them. Children have the right to say what they think should, when adults are making decisions that affect them and to have their opinion taken into account.

Education is a critical component of a healthy transition into adulthood. During childhood and adolescence, learning occurs more intensely than during other phases of life. During adolescence, young people develop physical and cognitive skills and acquire the knowledge and information necessary to becoming healthy, productive adults. Providing quality education in a safe environment and keeping children in school is a cross-cutting strategy that links different development priorities. For example, being in school has been associated with delays in the age of sex, marriage, and childbearing. Appropriate targeted policies and programs that help to keep young people enrolled throughout adolescence and connected to the social network that schools provide can have important impacts on their personal development and can minimize their vulnerabilities to the challenges that exist outside of the school environment and help them secure and reduce poverty levels.

Every Child has the right to the best possible health.  Government must provide good health care, clean water, nutritious food and clean environment so that children can stay healthy.

Advocacy is a process of communication, or a set of actions targeted directly at the people who make decisions. Considering the amount of time people spend at work it makes sense that the workplace should provide information, education and services relating to Sexual reproductive health and rights issues. (SRHR)  Knowledge for action for young women and girls for sure is the power to make a difference in our societies, so partner with us and be that change we want to see.

Youth policies, both those aimed at building capacity and those meant to mitigate the effects of poverty, must address the distinctive environments in which young people live. Close attention needs to be given to the differences between the social and economic circumstances of urban and rural areas. In cities and towns, educational and health resources are more readily available than in rural villages. Cities also present a more diverse set of income-earning opportunities. But it is far from obvious that young people especially those who are poor are in a position to take advantage of these urban resources and opportunities. For the urban poor, school enrolment rates fall well below the rates of wealthier urban residents. In multiple dimensions of health, the urban poor hardly fare better than rural villagers. To some, the diversity of urban living standards may be seen in a positive light, suggesting possibilities for upward mobility. But to many poor girls and boys, this same diversity may be interpreted quite differently, as evidence of an unbridgeable gulf between their circumstances and those of the urban elites. The social risks of city life may jeopardize both poor young people and those who are better off, as is clear from higher urban rates of HIV and AIDS.

We need a new crop of young women and girls in our societies to raise the struggle to preserve what is ours, a crop that will stop at nothing to achieve economic independence. We are all born as blank keys and as we grow our parents, environments, society  are tools God uses to shape us and make us into the keys we ought to be.

CSW: Why do we fight?

By Julia Diprose  fromYWCA of Australia. Julia is currently attending the 58th session of the Commission on the Status of Women in New York.

Since I found out I was coming to the Commission on the Status of Women #CSW (and bragging about it on Facebook) people have invariably reacted to the news with combinations of “That’s amazing! So, what is it exactly?”

To my chagrin (I am after all a communications professional) I have found answering this question rather difficult. It is only here in New York, deprived of real caffeine and sleep, and spending 16 hour days at the UN, that I have found myself able to answer the most basic of questions – what am I doing here?

julia2

Julia Diprose

The CSW Commission on the Status of Women is an international forum attended by delegations from 45 UN member states at United Nations Headquarters in New York. The Commission is the ultimate policy-making body on gender equality and the advancement of women. It meets annually to evaluate progress on gender equality, identify challenges, set global standards and formulate concrete policies to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment worldwide. The theme for the 58th Commission is: “Challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls.”

Ok, great. Now what does that mean?

At the end of the CSW a document of Agreed Conclusions is produced – it contains commitments that governments around the world make to ensure that the world tomorrow is a equal place for women. The Millenium Development Goals expire in 2015 and we are here to talk about what comes next.

The world’s not so bad, you think. I’m a clever, capable woman. I take care of myself and the idea that I can’t is fundamentally offensive. Beyonce exists. Tina Fey is killing it. We got this.

We forget, in our selfishness, in our loneliness that there is no better time in the world to be a woman than today. That’s true and it should be celebrated.

But.

A girl is born to a family with four children. There is no access to contraceptives and her mother cannot afford to feed four hungry mouths let alone one more No matter. She is born.

I won’t tell you what country she is from because she could be from anywhere. 222 million women around the world have no access to contraception. In the words of Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka,  Executive Director of UN Women: When women have unwanted pregnancies they sign a contract with poverty.

Because food is tight and her brothers are prized, the girl grows up hungry. Her mother falls pregnant twice more and means get even more scarce. The costs of school uniforms is such that only two of the six children can be sent to school. The boys go.

It is difficult to make certain claims about womanhood, about sexuality, about feminism. Being a woman today is tremendously complicated and capturing the nuances of our experiences is fraught. Making generalities about men, about culture, about patriarchy and tradition is equally problematic. Everywhere good men stand with us.

But I want to state this explicitly.

Around the world today, women are prized as playthings. Their virginity defines them. Do not doubt that the idea that women could or should enjoy their own body is offensive to many. The plague of female genital mutilation is testament to that. The power and ownership of others continues to define women.

This little girl won’t go to school – won’t learn how to spell or how to count or how to play.

How can she develop the ability and wherewithal to flourish?

I look at my boyfriend’s nieces – teeny, lovely little things who have the utter confidence that comes from only ever being loved. Their beauty and innocence and shining promise is a delight.

How many little girls have never had that love?

And this little girl . She will not be taught about her own body. About what she deserves, about how it should be treated. About how it should be touched. Or not. About respect. All these things will make her vulnerable to abuse in the future.

Can there be a better argument for age appropriate sex education? To save one little girl trauma and invasion and violation.

And this little girl. Will she be subjected to violating and degrading practices? Will her sexuality be controlled by others? Will she be free of harm?

1 in 3 women around the world experience violence – being raped. Being beaten.

Every minute a young woman is newly infected with HIV.  An estimated 150 million young women and girls under 18 years suffered some form of sexual violence in a given year.

So this little girl gets her period at age 12 – a frightening and confusing experience for her as she has never been taught about her body.

And now she is a woman.

She is married – to a man ten, twenty, forty years older than her. A man not of her choosing. A man who sees her as property.

I write this and I cannot begin to fathom the terror of that first night. Maybe of every night.

She falls pregnant. A lifetime of malnourishment means that she has acute anaemia. A lifetime of hunger means that her growth has been stunted, her hips too slim.

She is a child. In no way equipped to support a pregnancy. There is no medical support. There is no support from family.

Giving birth is an excruciating process.

I am terrified of giving birth in the best medical facilities and with the best care money can buy. I cannot begin to fathom what these girls go through.

If she survives the pregnancy, and the birth, if she does not develop an obstetric fistula and the baby survives – the cycle will be perpetuated. We are letting girls and women slip through the cracks.

We are not doing enough, not nearly enough, for girls. For women.

I tell this story conscious of perpetuating a narrative that suggests violence against women is something that happens elsewhere – to other women in an other place.

Violence against women happens everywhere. 35% of girls and women around the world have experienced it. It is insidious. For some, it is having their genitals cut. For some, being burnt and beaten and whipped in the home. For some its the terror of a volatile, controlling partner. For some it’s a life of slavery – slavery that we thought we had eradicated.

Trafficking is in the top three most profitable industries in the world. Buying people is flourishing.

We cannot capture all their voices. But for all of those who cannot, or did not speak, I stand and weep with you. And I fight for you.

A document cannot ensure the end of violence. Only people can. But this document, that holds governments accountable to do more, is a part of something bigger. One piece in a vast puzzle.

I want to be a champion for women and girls at home and around the world.

And that’s why I’m here.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 78 other followers